I was recently talking with a 15-year-old gentleman about his observations of today's teens, which have been appropriately labeled the “entitled” generation. This young man's insight was so captivating that it temporarily converted my role from teacher to student as I listened to his “old soul” wisdom. Below is a summary of his observations regarding today's youth.
The conversation started with him saying that he was “shocked” by what he saw in his peers. This caught my attention because, if judging by appearance, one would think this gentleman was very much a part of this slacker/entitled group. He had long, stringy hair that covered most of his face, he wore slacker jeans that constantly had to be pulled up and had been in trouble with the law for some minor offenses. He also had failed the ninth grade twice despite the fact that his IQ placed him near (if not in) the genius range. Despite appearances, deep within he has a wealth of conscious wisdom. He observed, “Kids have it too easy today and this has robbed us of the opportunity to learn about life. My peers have become masters of procrastination”.
He furthered, “It keeps us from learning about life because we know if we put something off long enough someone else will come do it for us. Procrastination is avoidance and we have learned to avoid everything that takes any effort”. He explained, “things like school work, chores, doing things for others, or learning anything that requires effort. We don't do things that are not considered fun. In the process of having everything so easy we have lost basic respect for ourselves and the people around us. People cannot learn respect for themselves, or others, when things are easy. It takes putting effort into tasks to learn what respect is. People have learned to be lazy and they have learned this at home”. “Kids continue to avoid putting effort forward because there are no consequences for their laziness. For most of us, the biggest consequence for our avoidance of life is enduring being yelled at or receiving a lecture which is easily tuned out. Sometimes we have a loss of privileges but it takes effort for parents to enforce them so we usually get off the restriction early”.
He continued his observation, “Parents, being overwhelmed with their own life, take the easy way out in parenting so we have learned to take the easy way out of our own lives. I am shocked to see so many kids that have not been taught common courtesies. Very few say, “Please”, “Thank you”, call adults “Mama or Sir” and even more disturbing most don't even know of these courtesies. There is very little pride in our work or efforts because we don't put forth work or effort. We have not learned how to do our best and then feel the subsequent pride that comes with it”. He continued his elaboration, “effort, I can't believe it when I walk home from school with friends and all they do is complain about having to walk…we are talking about a mile or so…it is not far but it does take some effort. I have friends that will call their parents upstairs on their cell phones rather than walking up the stairs because that too takes effort”. At this point we both got a laugh when I recounted the pre-cell phone version of this phenomena which was standing at the bottom of the stairs and screaming “MMOOMM” and then invariably Dad would say …”Don't yell, go up stairs”. He resumed his observations by saying, “kids don't' even know how to do simple math division in their heads because they are so used to calculators which do it for them. I am saddened to see so many who don't know how to do long division with pencil and paper”. He figured “that because kids have it so easy, they just don't know how to put forth basic efforts.
As a result, we have a generation that is less respectful, less prideful and less caring about themselves, others and the world as a whole. All they think about is themselves and what they want. It is like we are all kings and queens of our own little country. We are very self centered and think of nobody but our selves”. So I asked him why he appeared to be part of the problem when he knew a different way. He replied that he hadn't seen a reason for putting in the effort. He questioned all activities “what was in it for him”? With this conversation though he was realizing that he was what was in it for him.
As a result of this session I contemplated how, as a society, we got to this place. This transition occurred within my lifetime and it seems the breakdown started when, as a society, we became a predominately two-income family. While women going to work was a great thing for women, establishing their equality both amongst themselves and with men, it seems to have taken a toll on our children. We have also seen a larger number of families who are single parents, which has added to the strain. It takes a lot of energy to work a full time job, run a home (cook meals, do laundry, run errands, clean the house), shuffle the kids around to their various activities, being emotionally available to provide love and support, then comes providing structure and enforcing consequences for the kids. It seems families have over extended and exhausted themselves! Here is the quagmire; in order of priorities most parents have to work sometimes overtime, to provide the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
Then there is taking care of our homes including running errands, cooking meals, and cleaning the house, which also have to be done. While parents attempt to get kids involved with home routines I hear them say in my practice it is “easier to do myself then to argue with the kids about it”. Next, the kids have demands that parents want to fulfill for their kids like music lessons, karate, team sports, or shuffling them to a friend's home. So by the time parents need to provide structure and consequences to the kids they are wiped out. There is little doubt that it is easier energy-wise to give in than to argue with a teen. However, this has left kids with a low sense of self worth as they are not learning things which will inherently raise their esteem. The truth is structure and consequences actually make a child feel safe and loved. I have had so many kids tell their parents all they wanted was for the parent to teach them right from wrong and to show them how to be responsible, respectful, adults through consequences. Not through yelling and lecturing them but through enforcing structure and consequences in the home that are reflective of the real world. It is true that while kids express anger and unhappiness with rules, deep inside they crave it; they need it. This process teaches kids to respect adults, rules, and therefore respect for themselves. Kids also learn discipline and their own strengths. They learn to put effort forward in all tasks and to think of others rather than only thinking of themselves.
Please understand there is no fault or blame being laid here just observations for mulling over. All parents want the best for their children! Each generation of parents want their kids to have a better life then their own so adults believe we have to keep working harder to provide it.
How can we make changes today? One of the things that I teach parents is to enforce consequences for kids without it being an emotional drain for themselves. The thought is that if it is not a drain then parent's can/will lay down the law more often. Most parents get emotionally hooked into the kid's arguments, which then turns into a battle (remember kids resist the rules even though they crave them) and it is exhausting.
To begin, parents need to set the rules and inform the kid's what the expectations and subsequent consequences are….maybe through a family meeting to be sure everyone is on the same page. Then post the expectations and consequences in the house somewhere. The refrigerator is a good place to do this and give a copy to the kids for them to post in their rooms. If they choose to not put them up that is ok as it is their choice but the rules still apply. The rules can be things like having a respectful attitude with parents, routinely doing chores, no missing homework assignments, no poor grades, checking-in with parents on time, keeping curfew, etc. Next, assign a consequence for each expectation. Make the consequence appropriate for the infraction.
For example, if the child has missing assignments (now parents can check online so it makes this process much easier for parents) they do not get to socialize, watch TV, play games (no fun time), until all work is completed. Sometimes parents may even have to remove the TV from the teen's room until all work is complete. If kids don't check in on time then they don't get to go hang out with their friends for a few days. If they miss curfew then they don't get to go out the following weekend….it does not matter how big the coming event is (yes, prom can be taken off the table)…don't cave in. You really are not ruining their life no matter how much they want you to believe you are! Think of it this way, if it was so important to them then they would not have made choices that lost them the privilege of participating. When enforcing consequences it is easier for parents to stay emotionally detached when they realize they are doing it out of love not punishment, to teach and better their children. It is not a punishment but a tool to make them better people so they can have a better life.
Another tool is to not engage with the kids in the argument. Say your position once, maybe twice tops, and then walk away. If they follow you go to your room then close the door, if they come in then throw them out and lock your door. Remember that people can't argue if they don't have someone to argue with! The tears and anger that follow are tools kids use to control parents…to get the parent to do what they want. If you see the drama as nothing more than a control mechanism it will help you to not get emotionally hooked. When kids learn that the histrionics get them their way it damages them! They will interact with all people in that manner when told “no”. Imagine your kids having a tantrum at their place of employment; is that how you want them to behave? These are just a few observations and tips on where we have evolved in our child rearing. But few will say that, as a whole, today's kids are grounded, balanced, centered beings so maybe changes should be made to child rearing. If you have further questions, please feel free to ask me and I will do my best to help.
Cynthia Pickett, LSCW, LADC Addendum I am pleased to update that this young man completed his junior and senior year during one school year and graduated on time with his class. He is currently enrolled in college and headed for a career in engineering.
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Please feel free to contact Cynthia through any of the following:
316 California Avenue, Box 134
Reno, Nevada 89509